Bear with Us, We’re Having Fun!

Learning from a Finnish edtech startup, and adjusting classroom reality.

INTERVIEW | by Victor Rivero

Jussi Kajala is Chief Operating Officer, Co-Founder, and Chairman of the Board at 3DBear Ltd. An experienced, enthusiastic technology visionary with a very strong record in leadership, financing and startups, Jussi combines his excellent communication and sales skills, top university degree from University of Cambridge, and Ph. D. in material physics, to provide a top-notch problem solving ability to help those around him.

His company, 3DBear, is an edtech startup built on world-class Finnish principles that explores learning with augmented reality, or AR.

Unleashing the creativity of students through a free AR app, students can do 3D design in augmented reality as easily as Snapchat and without the bottlenecks of 3D printing. They download the app, test it out, and quickly see how 3DBear AR app helps them to express their creativity, no matter what their skillsets are.

The company offices are in both Helsinki, Finland (HQ) and New York City.

Do you think all humans are inherently creative?

Jussi: Absolutely. Creativity can come in many different forms. Some people find it natural to express themselves using words, others by writing. Lately, kinesthetic and visual learning have surfaced as trends to the learning community. I believe that in every one of us there is creativity in every single way. As mankind, we should do whatever it takes to fuel creativity, because it ultimately leads to innovation and prosperity when used in a good way. We should harness the potential of all the channels of creativity available. This is indeed my passion as an entrepreneur.

What role does creativity play in learning for K-12 students?

Jussi: According to Bloom’s taxonomy, creating is the highest form of learning. When you build something yourself, the learning experience is unique. Everybody remembers the toy boat they carved themselves out of wood as a kid but they wouldn’t remember the mass-produced plastic dolls they played with. Similarly, learning science, math, ELA, or social studies by creating is a much better pedagogical experience for K–12 learners. Creating also gives them the sense of achievement, which leads to better self-esteem when encouraged in the right way.

Why is AR an especially effective tool for inspiring creativity?

Jussi: Augmented reality provides us a way for designing in the context. If you want to redesign your home, the best template for doing it is your home itself. If you want to see what different buttons look like on your dress, the best way of doing it is actually looking at the buttons on the dress in AR. In a sense, augmented reality provides a sandbox without boundaries—the real world coupled with any digital models. Combinations and mash-ups are infinite. What has been really lacking are use cases. That’s why we created 3DBear for education.

Why is 3D printing a similarly effective creative tool?

Jussi: 3D printing provides the bridge between the digital world and the physical world. In the future, you will be able to design almost whatever you like in AR (for example a new look for your yard) and have it 3D printed as a service on the spot. This is still 20 years away, but already everything is modelled in AR and virtual reality, and almost everything can be 3D printed. For inspiring creativity, 3D printing provides unlimited possibilities for customization. Your eyeglasses are designed according to your measures. Your birthday cake is just the way you like it. You create your own tools and toys and customize them to perfectly fit your need.

Can you give an example of the two technologies working together to really turbocharge creativity in a classroom?

Jussi: One of the most popular lesson plans—which by the way, we have developed in Finland, the best educational system in the world—is a STEAM lesson called “Redesign your School.” It asks students to think about how would they like to improve their school (or local community). They use critical thinking and creativity while working in groups to come up with innovative solutions. They draft their designs in augmented reality by using 3DBear on the spot they would like to improve. The students debate about the improvements and vote in the class for the best design to be 3D printed. The 3D printed design is used as a starting point for doing the actual improvement and a physical symbol when communicating with local decision-makers about how to improve the school or community.

Some educators hesitate to adopt technology like AR because they don’t see a clear educational value in it. What is 3DBear doing to present clear pedagogical value to teachers?

Jussi: I think the best way to demonstrate is via success. In Finland we have had teachers already calling us and asking “What did you do to student X”? The pedagogical tool 3DBear AR we have developed has started to spread among the students. It’s quite similar to what happened back in the days of Minecraft and Minecraft Education. Students are finding it first, and teachers are following suit. As a Ph.D. in theoretical physics, I’m also a firm believer in academic research, so we’re in process of conducting an efficacy study to evaluate the impact of AR on education properly.

How are educators incorporating the tech into their curriculum?

Jussi: With the real world as your digital playground, the possibilities are truly endless. You can reconstruct historical scenes at their actual locations; you can do creative storytelling based on a book you’ve read and cast yourself as a character in the scene; you can learn about 3D math by actually interacting with the 3D shapes present in your everyday surroundings! The list goes on and on. We’ve created lesson plans that make it easy for educators to get started, but the true value comes from when the teachers grasp this technique and start creating lessons of their own.

What changes are they seeing in comprehension, engagement, curiosity, and collaboration?

Jussi: When you engage students in their own medium, you spark engagement and curiosity in a way you could not do in a traditional classroom setting. I find it funny: educators can’t keep their students from using the app. It requires good self-esteem for the educator because it’s a tool that the students might be more proficient with. 3D is the the natural way of presenting things for humans. In chemistry, think about how hard it is to decipher formulae in 2D because you can’t write in 3D? 3D provides a new dimension for the learning and comprehension. Regarding collaboration, we find using AR in STEAM classes and project-based learning a particularly good way of enhancing collaboration. There, we provide a platform or “common language” for collaboration.

What do you see as the current state of edtech and education in general?

Jussi: Technological progress is speeding up more than ever. But sadly, it does not lead to increased pedagogical value per se. The right question to ask is, “How can the new technologies best provide the highest pedagogical value?” There are topics and skills that won’t be better to teach with new technologies, but there certainly are skills that are. That’s actually the heart and soul of 3DBear: we find the best use of augmented reality and 3D printing for education and then spread the word. That saves the time and resources of others.

Classrooms have already changed so much from my time. Teachers are much more adept at pedagogical techniques, at least in Finland and in the US. Special care is provided when needed. What I see as a large challenge in the field is that the best practices don’t spread quickly enough. Not between countries, nor states, nor sometimes even between districts or schools. The slow speed in uptake of new pedagogical tools drives innovation away from schools. We need more passionate and pedagogical tech-savvy teachers in the field to have an impact. I give my greatest respect to those who already are there: your work is more important than ever.

Any other thoughts to share?

Jussi: Try out our application! It’s available in App store and Google play by name “3DBear AR”. Make an impact in your school with it. If you don’t see how, get in touch with me and we’ll talk. I believe that by using our solution you will do a great service to your students.

Victor Rivero is the Editor-in-Chief of EdTech Digest. Write to: victor@edtechdigest.com

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